Production of the first Volkswagen Transporter began 65 years ago this month and having reached ‘cult’ status, the ‘Bulli’ is still going strong. Indeed, with the first UK import selling for £67,500 at auction recently, is there any end in sight to the VW bus phenomenon that is sweeping the universe?
It all began in 1947 with a simple pencil sketch by Dutch car importer Ben Pon who spotted a simple flat-bed vehicle at the VW plant and, taking it as a basic idea, he sketched the outlines of a Transporter with Beetle underpinnings.
Obviously keen on the idea, two years later, Volkswagen plant manager, Heinrich Nordhoff, presented four prototypes: two panel vans, a kombi and a small bus with the intention that it would be as uncompromising and tough as the Beetle: “These vehicles won’t be handled with kid gloves, rather they will be treated roughly,” he promised.
Designers borrowed the engine and axles from the Beetle but instead of the Bug’s central tubular frame, the bus featured a unitary body mounted on a ladder platform. The 1192cc engine produced a wheezy 24bhp at 3300rpm but nevertheless it could transport up to eight people and the two rear seat rows could be removed easily to free up load space for around 750kg of payload.
Production eventually began on 8 March 1950, in Hall 1 of the Volkswagen plant in Wolfsburg, and ten vehicles were manufactured per day. By the end of 1950, 8001 Transporters had already been built. Demand was enormous, especially since its affordable price made it an attractive option to tradesmen and retail businesses. The unique vehicle quickly became an export hit as well. Volkswagen buses could simply transport anything and everything: rubble and debris, mortar and building stones, breakfast rolls and bees wax, cigars and newspapers – you name it.
The first VW camper made its appearance in 1951 at the automobile exhibition in Berlin and by 1954, the 100,000th bus had trundled off the Wolfsburg production line. Daily production in Wolfsburg was at 80 vehicles but it couldn’t produce more because the plant was already filled to capacity with Beetles. It became clear that the Transporter needed its own plant…
Construction work began in early March 1955 in Hannover-Stöcken, and the plant was built from the ground up in just one year. In March 1956, the first ‘Made in Stöcken’ Transporters come off the assembly line and to date, an impressive 11 million T-series vehicles spanning five generations have been produced worldwide.
Bringing the story up to date, production of the new T6 (above) starts this year – and we’ve no doubt it will prove as popular as that very first bus which made its appearance six and a half decades ago…
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